In recent times there has been a surge in media relating to the treatment of the LGBTQ+ community during the HIV and AIDS crisis of the 80’s and 90s. Films like Robin Campillo’s 120 BPM and Matthew Warchus’s Pride, series like Russell T Davies’s It’s a Sin, a sleuth of documentaries dealing with the epidemic in the US plus the amazing third season of George Pelecanos and David Simon’s The Deuce have brought the harrowing realities members of the LGBTQ+ communities at the time had deal with from not only the fear of the disease but the fear of being ostracized by their communities and loved ones. A stigma which sadly still exists.

Ireland’s approach to this epidemic was incredibly condescending and fearmongering, having advertisements that were to scare any God-fearing straight white couple to stay away from sex while also barely acknowledging the pain and suffering of the queer community at the time. Out of sight, out of mind was the phrase of the day and it seems not much has changed since. The new film by Shane Dunne and Anna Rodgers, How to Tell a Secret deals with the internal stigma modern Ireland has with HIV and how this effects people with the disease.

Half documentary/ half theatre piece the story follows real life accounts of people from all walks of life who have HIV, some of these accounts are displayed by actors whilst others decide to tell their own stories. The cinematic vignettes of these stories contrasted with the documentary segments make for an interesting mixture, it’s an ambitious feat with the film’s best moments. Sadly, I think this ambition gets the better of the filmmakers, some scenes seem more polished than others and the direct adaptation of some of the play’s scenes just feel like that, a play. The more it strayed from this the more I enjoyed these sequences and the film felt like its own thing.

One scene in particular dealing with a mother of three having the disease really shows where this film could’ve gone if they’d just put more effort into being visually subtle with its text than recreating scenes from the play written by Dunne. The documentary sequences are standard for the territory, the transitions between the two contrast well in some places and unbalanced in others. Overall, I think the idea of experimenting with the format was a good one that just needs improvement if the filmmakers were going to attempt it again.

These critiques aside, the film does envelope you with its cause and that’s in no small part due to the person at the center of this, Robbie Lawlor. Lawor puts his story forward with no embarrassment or regret and makes himself into a hero rather than a victim. Diagnosed in 2012 his journey through his struggles with not only the disease but informing others that it’s not the end of the world to have it is truly an inspiring account. His work and that of Dunne are to be commended and I recommend not only seeing this film but also looking into their cause. Lawlor is still campaigning to dampen the stigma and educate people on today’s reality with HIV. Not bad for local lad from Clondalkin.

Score: 3/5

  • Written and Directed by: Shaun Dunne and Anna Rodgers
  • Run Time: 1hr and 41min
  • Released: December 1st, 2022
  • Rating: 2 out of 5

Review by Marcus Rochford.

How to Tell a Secret Trailer